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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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PHILADELPHIA —I would like to begin this article by paying tribute to the Soviet people with whom we associated, first as an invited delegation from the American Association for the United Nations and later as tourists when Dr. David Gurewitsch and I came under the auspices of the exchange committee for the advancement of cultural exchange between foreign countries and the Soviet Union.

Dr. and Mrs. Gurewitsch and I were in the Soviet Union through a period of very high tension. We talked to many people in important positions, but they never showed us the slightest personal antagonism and always they refrained from asking questions which would have been embarrassing for us and would have inevitably led us into fruitless arguments.

In order to have a profitable argument we must acknowledge that both sides have certain premises that they need to change. That is impossible for the Soviets and not so easy for us, so actually we have to save our breath when we are citizens without power to change the situation, and try to devote ourselves to developing warm feelings toward each other as individuals. That, I hope, we succeeded in doing.

Now for some of the changes that strike you on a return visit after a year's absence. One year ago driving in from the airport to our hotel in Moscow we saw practically only trucks on the road. This year, while there is no traffic comparable to what you find in Paris, London, or New York, there was a large number of small cars on the road and a considerable number of larger cars—all of them of Russian make.

We looked as we approached the University of Moscow for the sea of cranes which had greeted our eyes last year, when we had been told that every two cranes meant an apartment house being built. Instead the apartment houses were all built. The city extended solidly beyond the university on one side of the road and on the other side the cranes were up and apartment houses that would, when finished, house 2,000,000 people were on their way.

As always, the Soviet Union is a country of contrasts, and one finds a collective farm beginning where the new apartment houses end. Cows lie peacefully under the shadow of new apartment houses, feeling secure in their surroundings which by another year may be completely changed!

Last year it never occurred to me—though there was a table at the Hotel National which was kept and filled at all times by young Chinese—that the progress made in the Soviet Union might be paralleled by the progress in Communist China or that it might be even greater in China.

This year I noticed that Premier Nikita Khrushchev's notes were gone over by the Chinese Ambassador who traveled to Yalta to consult with him. This may or may not be important, but it might mean a considerable rise in power of the Communist Chinese. If so, this fact may be important for our negotiators to consider. Six hundred million Chinese so close to the Soviet border may give pause to Mr. Khrushchev. At this moment a settlement with the West may have some attraction, for even in the Communist world balance of power must be considered.

Long ago I remember reading a book which stressed the rise of the "yellow peril." The world is so full of perils today that I think this has become the wrong approach, but learning to get on with our brothers from many lands and of all colors and of all races and keeping a balance in the world of power may require greater understanding among the minority peoples of the world who are not the colored peoples. The Soviets may well feel that they are in the position of a bridge between various races and nationalities and they may be more anxious than ever to have amicable relations in the West, as well as in the East.

I found no great change in the prices of food and of clothes, but in spite of that I noticed on the streets of Moscow and of Leningrad that the people were more adequately clothed. The children's store which had just opened a year ago in Moscow is in full swing and always crowded—a paradise of toys for Sunday visiting but a place where things of every kind for children can be bought and are bought by people who must be better off than the average individual.

On the whole, there is a readier response to a smile, and I think this means the average Soviet citizen feels himself moving forward.

These people have not yet acquired a certain inner security and confidence that comes with maturity. They are still extremely sensitive to small criticisms. They sometimes will make what sounds like a critical statement of themselves, but if you pick it up and stress it they withdraw at once and begin to defend the very thing that they themselves seemed to criticize. Outside criticism is certainly not welcome, but then it rarely is unless you are a mature and confident individual or nation.

In loaning my last volume of my autobiography, "On My Own," to a Russian I felt obliged to explain that when I said I would die if I had to live in Russia I was really expressing what nearly all people feel, the love of their own country because they have roots in a certain area and could not want to live anywhere else in the world.

I like to see many areas of the world. I like to visit them. There are certain places that I would feel bereft if I could not return to them from time to time. But I would die if I had to live anywhere but in my own country.

I do not feel, however, that I have to explain this to the French or the British. I am sure they feel the same way and it would not hurt their feelings when I expressed my own feeling. But the Russians are still so young that I suddenly became conscious that they might well think theirs was the only country I could not bear to live in permanently!

This is purely an illustration of my awakening to a sense of their sensitiveness. And I think it is an important thing for all of us who travel in Russia and speak or write about it to remember that over-sensitiveness on either side will often lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretations. If we wish to build good personal relations, we must try never to forget to think of the reaction of the Russians even to careless words or deeds.


(Copyright, 1958, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Philadelphia (Pa., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 7, 1958

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.